Feeling “HOT” About Women’s Leadership in Louisville

By Lisa Meyer

I recently attended the 6th annual Women’s Leadership in Enrollment Management reception hosted by WittKieffer. This event is held in conjunction with the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) annual conference, and took place in Louisville this year. I’ve attended this reception several times over the years, but this was my first time attending as a host, having joined the WittKieffer team in late July. I found myself surprisingly conflicted about hosting this event, which this year carried the theme, “The Future is Female.”

Having spent over 30 years working in higher education, I’m certainly not blind to the hurdles women have to overcome in order to succeed. I remember one dinner early in my career when a colleague proudly announced to his friend, “She’s smarter than she looks.” Later, I remember being told that I should soften my delivery, maybe smile a little more when presenting to trustees. So, why did I feel ambivalent now about an event designed to empower women and encourage their successes? I suppose the answer to that comes from my deep desire for the world to be fair. After all these years, I want to believe the playing field is level, that this kind of event is not necessary. But as I spoke with our guests and saw all the nodding heads while our speaker made her points, I knew this event was good… and absolutely still necessary.

The evening began when more than 50 women gathered to share in food, beverages, and conversation. The group was lively and reflected pairings of mentors and mentees who attended together.  I particularly enjoyed catching up with friends and meeting so many new women who are forging careers in enrollment management. After eating “hot browns” (a sandwich unique to Kentucky) and enjoying conversations, the formal program began with WittKieffer principal Amy Crutchfield greeting the group. It was Amy who first recognized the need for this event six years ago and who has hosted it ever since. After a few welcoming comments, she introduced our speaker for the evening, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at UCLA and an icon in the field. Youlonda began by sharing that she is part of a group of “HOT” women, who get together regularly, and have agreed to be Honest, Open, and Transparent. They speak the truth to each other, and Youlonda asked for permission to be HOT that night. Without apologies or hesitation, here is what she had to say:

Making progress

Youlonda was quick to point out that in multiple studies on leadership, women consistently outscore men on leadership characteristics, and not just on the soft skills, but on the hard skills as well. She spoke to the progress women are making, noting that one-third of the leadership roles in higher education are now held by women. Despite unequal treatment and bias, women are achieving success.

Owning success

If women make up approximately half of the population, why don’t they share equally in positions of power? While only one part of the equation, Youlonda noted that women seeking leadership roles often lack confidence. Women spend a lot of time wondering “Can I do this?” when in reality they are already doing it. “In truth,” she said, “you are doing the hard work. You are in the roles you are in because you bring value to the workplace, not because someone is doing you a favor.” Owning responsibility for success is empowering and promotes further successes.

Finding balance

What about that ever-present question of how to find balance between family and work? Youlonda answered that by saying, “I gave up the idea of balance a long time ago. I just decided to get as much done as I can in a day. Just let some of your to-do list go. There will always be more items on it than you can complete.” Women can carry a lot of guilt for not solving every problem and serving every function. That guilt is a weight that hampers forward movement. Let it go.

Finding your own way

Sharing a bit of her own story, Youlonda reflected on when she first enrolled in an MBA program.  She went out and bought herself a blue suit, a black suit, and a tan suit to try to look the part. “I looked like a flight attendant!” she exclaimed. Her point was that the days of trying to mimic men in order to succeed have passed. We should each find our own way and embrace it.

Knowing your own worth

Then Youlonda told a story about giving a promotion to an employee who asked for a salary that was “a little higher” than what she had been making previously. Youlonda had done some research and found this woman was being underpaid by $26,000 relative to like positions on campus. She warned us, “Don’t ask for a little bit more… Know your worth.”

Supporting each other

As we move through our careers and move up through the ranks, it is essential to support one another. For this event, mentors brought mentees with them and the meaningful nature of those relationships was evident. Throughout the evening women spoke of the ways they had been mentored, of the women who helped them succeed. Youlonda also spoke of mentors in her life and repeatedly returned to the core concept that, “We have to support each other.”

I’m happy to say that by the end of the evening my trepidation had passed and what I felt was gratitude. I was thankful to be surrounded by so many successful women – some in the early parts of their careers and others nearing the end – and to see them shine with confidence in a world that has not always encouraged them. I found myself surrounded by HOT women, and I enjoyed the heat.

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